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Paul Coupar in Barbados
April 11, 2007
One comic moment summed up another frustrating day for England. Shahriar Nafees spooned to mid-on, where Michael Vaughan grassed the gentlest of dollies. Everyone was stunned, including Habibul Bashar who stood statue-like in mid-pitch and was comfortably run out after Vaughan whizzed the ball to the keeper. Presented with a routine chance, England once again very nearly muffed it.
"I was embarrassed to be honest," Vaughan said. He was talking about the catch but could just as easily have been talking about the side's inept crawl to a target of 144.
England have become dangerously addicted to the path of most resistance. Having waited till they were stuck in a seemingly impossible position before storming to the CB series in Australia, they have subsequently struggled past Kenya and Canada. And today they crawled to a paltry target with six wickets down, five overs left and plenty to fret about. "There were a lot of areas where we weren't quite at our best," Vaughan said afterwards.
If they reach the semi-finals, it will be another back-door job. Most probably they need to win both their last games, against South Africa and West Indies.
Almost everything was in England's favour today, which made the near-miss still more culpable. Firstly, the pitch helped their quicks, starting fast and bouncy, nothing like the one on which Bangladesh's three left-arm spinners nagged South Africa to defeat last week. "It was a bad toss to lose," Habibul Bashar, who would have bowled first if given the choice, said.
Secondly, the crowd were behind England, a sea of pink faces and St George's crosses. Once a West Indian fortress (59 years unbeaten), Bridgetown was stormed by the Barmy Army in 1993-94. It remains a favourite destination for England supporters and they were in the noisy majority today.
Thirdly, despite no longer being walkovers, Bangladesh remain the worst-ranked Test side in the ICC's one-day table. And, after two recent wins, a young side is now facing an unfamiliar problem - expectation.
But England, like Vaughan with his dolly, almost made a hash of it. Once again the middle of the innings got perilously bogged down. "We should have chased down the target a little bit more comfortably than we did," Vaughan said, with a relieved smile. His side managed just 47 singles, a failure to rotate the strike Andrew Strauss recently put down to over-coaching. He might be right: the first genuinely unconventional shot came in the 38th over, when Paul Nixon reverse-swept Mohammad Rafique.
Vaughan's innings summed up England's toils. He looked out of form for a 59-ball 30 - "Thirty more than I've been getting lately" - and though he put away two half-volleys, his first attempt to manufacture a shot in anger was his undoing, as he top-edged a slog-sweep to short fine-leg. Like Vaughan, England's middle order need some gears between second and fifth. "They are missing Marcus Trescothick", Bashar said. "He's the one who would have made a big difference."
They may yet come to rue their tardiness. The race for the last semi-final place may come down to the net run-rate. England's is above that of their closest rivals, South Africa, but this was a golden opportunity to boost their advantage. "We talked about that," Vaughan said. "We could have played a bit more positively but it was more the way they were bowling that stopped us from doing it." In the end England got their two points and that was what mattered most.
It was a crunch day for the World Cup too. After complaints of joylessness and an antiseptic feel, the Cup came to Barbados - the spiritual home of West Indies cricket - loosened its tie and got dancing. Barbados triumphed, with grills lining the route to the ground, bands, and some serious noise. It is just a shame more people are not here to enjoy it. Last night many bars and restaurants were near-empty.
After 30 dolorous days and innumerable desperate press releases telling the world "everything is all right", the World Cup party finally got rocking. But if England's batting is anything like as nervy as today they will be slinking home well before the end. Vaughan admitted as much: "We know we're going to have to improve."
What's wrong with their cricket? Well, what isn't?
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